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Andrew Fidel Fernando
July 8, 2014
If there has been a theme to Angelo Mathews' captaincy so far, it has been stability. Mathews has largely called on the same pool of players across the two formats he captains. He has been generous with young players, affording them time to bed in at the top level. Bowlers have adhered to proven formula. Batsmen have followed plans rigorously. If the past six months is anything to go by, it is an approach that has brought results.
While South Africa have spoken, almost at every turn, about the World Cup in seven months, Mathews has ignored the future-focused chatter. "There's a long time to go," he said. "We are not thinking about the World Cup yet." Mathews prefers to win now, and build his team up gradually. No frills. No experiments. Just every man doing his job.
One-nil down in a home series, Mathews deflected suggestions that changes could improve his team's chances. "We don't need to panic," he said. "It's just one game and we played poorly. We can turn things around if we play better cricket than this. We don't need to panic or make major changes. Making changes shows the opposition that we are panicking. We just need to pull our socks up and try and perform better."
But despite his reluctance to unsettle the XI, there are thematic concerns Sri Lanka could address. The first is the second openers' position. Kusal Perera shone brightly, and briefly, as has been his way, at the Premadasa, without truly nailing down his place atop the order. He had played a match-turning innings in Sri Lanka's World T20 opener against South Africa, but tailed away towards the end of that tournament. There is no doubting his ability and his potential, but there is also reason to question his consistency at present. He had been dropped in England, with Lahiru Thirimanne pushed up to open, only for Perera to return when Thirimanne made little headway.
Mahela Jayawardene is a possible opening partner for Tillakaratne Dilshan. He averages 44.47 when opening - significantly higher than his career average of 32.94 - and he has meshed successfully with Dilshan in the past. A move up the order for Jayawardene may allow Perera to drop down to No. 4, where he often bats in domestic cricket, or even for Thirimanne to climb up the order to a position he prefers, but Mathews sees no sense in a batting reshuffle.
"I don't think we are that desperate to open with Mahela because his experience in the middle order counts a lot. We need someone like Mahela to try and control the middle order. Kusal has been doing pretty well up there, and he played a good knock on Sunday. Unfortunately he couldn't carry on.
"Mahela will play at No.4 but in an emergency, he might play as an opener or at No.3. We've got a set batting order and we're not going to meddle with that."
For the moment, Sri Lanka are grooming at least three young batsmen in their XI. In addition to Perera and Thirimanne, Ashan Priyanjan has had a run in the side over the past months. He too has shone sporadically. But he has given enough glimpses of promise to extend his run, despite the poor dismissal in the first ODI, Mathews suggested.
"Ashan plays very freely, no matter what the situation is," Mathews said. "He always trusts his ability and trusts his instincts. I want him to do just that. But in the last game, he showed little bit of inexperience. That happens to everybody. At the start of your careers, you get a lot of nerves. I feel for the player but he still a very good player."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernandoFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala